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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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“If I could supervise my supervisor ...”

Frank Delano

When Jill Goldstein and I (1992) first developed the workshop “If I Could Supervise my Supervisor…” we knew it was important to go beyond the process of having Child and Youth Care workers identify what they would do if they could change roles with their supervisor. We felt the workers needed to better understand the concept of supervision and get a better understanding of what their supervisor was supposed to be doing. They needed to understand supervision enough to have a better sense of what they should be doing. They needed to understand supervision enough to have a better sense of what they should be receiving. Most importantly, we felt that if Child and Youth Care workers were to move along the line of professionalism they had to be expected to accept responsibility for their role in getting the appropriate supervision.

Over the years the following model has emerged as a guideline for the Child and Youth Care worker to “own their own supervision.”

1. Ask! Ask! Ask! – The most direct and efficient way to get information is to ask questions. Child and youth care workers must be willing to ask the questions, and develop the skill to do so in a positive way, for the information they need. For example, I have often heard Child and Youth Care workers complain they don’t like the jargon that psychiatrists use in team meetings. This model suggests the worker is responsible to politely stop the psychiatrist and ask for a definition of any jargon they don’t understand. Conversely the worker should invite other team members to ask about terms the Child and Youth Care worker may use that others don’t understand. Asking someone his or her opinion is flattering. Every supervisor claims they would like energetic, idealistic, inquisitive supervisees who want to learn. Test that standard. The crucial piece to all this is building the relationship necessary for “asking” to be comfortable.

2. View supervision as a way to grow personally and professionally and not as a threat – The Child and Youth Care worker needs to be willing to “risk” to grow. The mind set has to be that supervision is good, not merely a monitoring device.

3. Seek out “supervision” anywhere you can and from anyone willing — This is tricky and potentially dangerous because it has the potential to contradict agency structure to be threatening to your assigned direct supervisor. It is a process that must be done in the true spirit of redefining "supervision" for yourself. The worker should see supervision as a natural part of all aspects and relationships in their work. Just as the child care worker in our agency used in-service training to get more "supervision," the worker should take advantage of all opportunities to grow while not damaging the formal supervisory relationship. Another example of this might be a worker who sees an open door to a psychiatrist’s office, or a social worker’s office, and asks to come in and chat about a couple of the kids for a few minutes.

4. Remember to ask the two “magic questions” — There are many times when a Child and Youth Care worker is frustrated by a decision or intervention the supervisor may make. The worker is sure the decision or intervention is a bad one. The decision may well be a mistake, but before concluding that and allowing frustration to creep in the worker should ask:

5. Learn and be willing to practice the art of constructive confrontation with your supervisor – Confrontation is often uncomfortable. However, if done respectfully and constructively it can add crucial depth to a relationship. Rather than sit angrily with an issue, try to find a way to constructively confront your supervisor about it. Keep in mind that constructive confrontation entails dealing with behaviour and its effects and not "attitude." Remember that a successful confrontation should get the desired change but also preserve the self-esteem of everyone involved. Be willing to accept this as a valid process if your supervisor confronts you.

6. Bring an agenda to supervision – Direct the flow of your own learning. One way to help structure the consistency of individual supervision is to bring an agenda each time. Try to contract the "one-third" model with your supervisor. Supervisory sessions will be one third your agenda, one third the supervisor’s agenda, and one third current or hot issues. Give your agenda to your supervisor at least one day in advance so there are no surprises. You are establishing yourself as a thoughtful professional invested in learning and building trust with your supervisor.

7. Participate in “group supervision” – Whatever form “group supervision” takes in your program, be willing to talk and participate. It is sometimes tempting to “hide” and not risk this process, partially because most direct line supervisors are not very skilled or comfortable doing group supervision. Often when they start to overcompensate with too much focus on administrative tasks your appropriate and constructive questions help can them get back on track.

8. “Insist” on an evaluation, and use your option to respond – All agencies have structured times for evaluations to be done. Learn when your time is due and respectfully remind your supervisor you are looking forward to getting it. If you are a new worker, ask for a blank copy of an evaluation so you are aware of what you will be evaluated on. If you receive an evaluation you are uncomfortable with, use your option to respond. However, ask for an appropriate, objective person to help you with the response so you keep a balance on your emotions.

9. Training: take all you can and be seen as one who will – Your supervisor is not an endless source of knowledge and skill. Use training as a way to help yourself grow in areas not covered in supervision. Create an image of yourself as a “thirsty learner.” It enhances your growth and helps establish you as a professional. You also increase your opportunities to get "supervision" from peers in your classes.

10. Establish a “teaching diagnosis” of your supervisor – Supervisors are trained to be responsible to develop a "learning diagnosis" for supervisees. That is, they have an obligation to assess how a supervisee best learns and then attempt to teach that way. But most supervisors, particularly under stress, revert to teaching in the way they are most comfortable. Make an assessment of what that style is and try to better learn that way. For example, a supervisor may not be very skilled at explaining concepts in an individual supervision session but is very good at direct practice with children. Watch them on the floor and then, in supervision, say, “Hey, I watched you do this with Johnny. It really seemed to work. Can you tell me about why you handled it that way?” It is also flattering and will likely open doors to more discussions.

11. Be emphatic with your supervisor’s issues and pressures – Supervisors are people too! Besides, you may be in their spot one day soon.

12. Learn to “manage your boss” – Buy into the idea of going against traditional top-down management. Rise above seeing this as “apple-polishing.” It is your best chance of creating a relationship in which you feel empowered. You are not going to change your supervisor – but you can certainly develop the skills to better manage your relationship.

13. Remember: It’s a relationship! – Like any other relationship in life it is not perfect, nor is it an "answer" to your problems and needs. Be honest, consistent, and dependable, and work hard to build trust. You will have to work together to make it successful – and be patient and understanding during the process.

Delano, F. (2001) “If I could supervise my supervisor...” Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol.15 No.2, pp. 61-64

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